When you’re teaching at a place like Butler University, says Michelle Jarvis ’73, MA ’76, why leave?
Currently Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of Dance, Jarvis will retire on August 31 after spending 35 years as a faculty member at the University. But her time with Butler spans even further—back to when she first arrived on campus as a Dance student in the late 1960s. Jarvis enjoyed every minute of those four years—studying and performing often, building friendships, and preparing for an impactful career spent mostly at her alma mater.
“My time as a Butler student did so much to enrich my life experiences,” says Jarvis. After completing her undergraduate degree in Dance, she began her career teaching at Millikin University. Returning to Butler to complete her graduate degree, she performed with Dance Kaleidoscope and the Indianapolis Ballet Theatre. She also spent this time becoming more involved with teaching.
“Early in my training as a young dancer, I knew I enjoyed dancing and wanted to pursue dance as a career,” she says. “But I also knew that our bodies don’t last very long as athletes, and I had always been interested in teaching and passing on the techniques of dance.”
Upon returning to Butler, Jarvis began instructing community students at the Jordan Academy of Dance and eventually taught company classes at Dance Kaleidoscope. She joined Butler’s Jordan College of the Arts (JCA) full time as an Assistant Professor in 1986. She spent the next three decades growing her career—Professor, to Dance Department Chair and Butler Ballet Artistic Director, to JCA Associate Dean (with two terms as Interim Dean), and, by 2017, Associate Provost—all while having a tremendous impact on Butler’s Dance program and the University as a whole.
“My career has been quite incredible to me,” Jarvis says. “With each new challenge, there were so many good things. The pride of being a professor. The chance to watch students grow into talented professionals, then staying in touch with many of them past graduation. Serving as Artistic Director for Butler Ballet. Making a difference for all of the JCA and Butler, both academically and artistically. I never once thought how far and vast my career would travel, and I am so grateful to have had all these experiences.”
Larry Attaway, current Chair of the Department of Dance and Executive Artistic Director of the Butler Ballet, says Jarvis’ influence can be seen and felt everywhere.
“I am so very happy to have had the opportunity to count Michelle as a colleague, but more importantly, as a friend,” Attaway says. “Her wisdom and artistry touched every part of the Dance program, and we are all the better for it. She was unwavering in her commitment to ensuring that the program was of the highest professional standing, and that the name ‘Butler Ballet’ was synonymous with quality. She has the keenest eye for detail, and she never let the smallest flaw go onstage.
“I shall miss her wisdom, her profound knowledge of everything Butler. But most of all, I shall miss hearing those high heels coming down the hallway and knowing that a great conversation about the world, about dance, about life, and about art was soon to follow.”
During her time with the Dance program, Jarvis opened up the Midwinter Dance Festival (now called the Midwinter Dances) to professional choreographers from beyond the University. Whether licensing an existing work or commissioning a new one, this has given students the chance to gain valuable experience working alongside professionals and to graduate with those credits on their resumes. Jarvis is particularly proud of this accomplishment, and she says these experiential opportunities have been extremely valuable to student success.
Jarvis also made many contributions benefitting all of the JCA. One that stands out to her was establishing a partnership between the college and the Butler Arts and Events Center, giving arts students ongoing opportunities to perform on campus in the Schrott Center for the Arts. Jarvis also helped develop the JCA Signature Series, an artist residency program designed to serve the Indianapolis community while providing learning opportunities for Butler students.
“Michelle set the proverbial ‘barre’ high for all of us,” says Lisa Brooks, Dean of the JCA. “Her dogged attention to quality and precision, together with her unwavering commitment to Butler as an institution, has made us all better. Over the years, I have admired everything about her, especially her love of teaching and support of our young dancers, who flourished under her guidance. We will all miss her, but I know she will bring the same energy to the next chapter of her life.”
In addition to dancing, teaching, and leading, Jarvis has earned nearly 100 choreographic credits throughout her career. At Butler, she choreographed not only for Butler Ballet, but also for Theatre and Music programs within the JCA. Her influence has extended beyond campus and into the community, where she worked with the Indianapolis Opera for more than 20 seasons, occasionally recruiting Butler students to perform with the organization. Jarvis has also created original choreography for Indiana Repertory Theatre, Civic Theatre of Indianapolis, and Dance Kaleidoscope—where she recently served on the Board of Trustees.
“Having that creative opportunity, being in the position to truly be creative and share my creative voice, was exceptional to me,” she says about choreography. “And I learned how to do that as a student here at Butler. I was given those opportunities, and that really made a difference for me.”
Now, Jarvis is ready for her next adventure. As she and her husband prepare for years of travel, she knows she’s leaving Butler in good hands.
“As I reflect on my career, I am overwhelmed by the opportunities Butler provided me, serving the JCA and the University as faculty and as an administrator,” she says. “As the Associate Provost, I realize that my career expanded from my own class, to a department, to a college, and finally to oversight for all students and faculty. I am honored to have served, and I look forward to the next phase of my career as Professor Emerita.”